7th September 2023
Lynda Howell writes about deciding to make changes in her life and embrace new opportunities.
Growing up with a stammer wasn't easy. I constantly doubted myself, criticised my every word and felt trapped by my own insecurities. I didn't see the point in pushing myself when my voice seemed limited, unable to fully express the thoughts and ideas within me. However, three years ago my life took a turn for the worse and it forced me to confront the changes I needed to make.
During that challenging period, I made a decision that would change my life. I chose to show myself compassion and silence the harsh inner critic that had held me back for far too long. It was time to step out of my comfort zone, challenge my beliefs and embrace opportunities for growth. I was determined to prove to myself that I could find my voice and speak my truth.
I made a list of things that filled me with fear and decided to face them. I took swimming lessons to confront my fear of immersing my face in water. I started doing the 'Couch to 5k' and completed a half marathon months later. Previously I would have experienced pain when running. It was very emotional crossing the finish line, and I completely amazed myself. Pain free!
I chose to show myself compassion and silence the harsh inner critic that had held me back for far too long.
I also went to a women's stammer group that I found. Growing up, I tried to ignore the fact that I stammered and hated listening to others stammering, as it was like holding a mirror up. Never in my life had I met another girl or lady who stammered; I thought I was the only one. Attending the group was a very emotional experience. I cried when I told the other ladies how I had felt throughout my life. That evening, I started to heal all the pain and shame. For the first time in my life, I showed myself compassion.
I then enrolled on a public speaking course. I was petrified as this was my biggest fear. The first day, I felt physically sick and my heart was pounding. It was a very small group of people and I did okay. It made me want to look for a bigger challenge.
I searched and stumbled upon a Toastmasters public speaking club in London called 'Kings Speakers'. The club is unique in that it's for people who stammer and/or have social anxiety. Intrigued by the possibilities it presented, I attended one of their meetings as a guest. That evening became a turning point in my life.
My first time at Kings Speakers was terrifying as I didn't know what to expect. I could feel the anxiety in my chest and throat, but I calmed myself with positive talk, telling myself that I was safe and not alone. I immediately sensed a welcoming and supportive atmosphere. I listened to some inspirational speakers and realised that I wasn't the only person who had struggled in life. It was a space where I felt understood and accepted, surrounded by individuals who shared similar experiences. In that safe and non-judgemental environment, I felt encouraged to take a leap of faith.
This would have terrified me in the past, but something within pushed me forward.
The Toastmaster (host) asked if any guests would like to come up and introduce themselves. My arm shot up and I was invited to the stage. I told everyone that I was on a journey to find my voice and be more comfortable in my skin. Sharing this gave me a real feeling of exhilaration.
During the break, I even put my name down for 'Table Topics', an exercise that requires speaking on the spot. This would have terrified me in the past, but something within pushed me forward.
When it was my turn I walked to the stage. The question I was presented with was "What's the worst piece of advice you've ever been given?". My mind went completely blank. I told everyone that I didn't know what to say! No one was judgemental. I forgave myself quickly and didn't criticise myself, which I used to always do.
Inspired by the transformative experience I had that evening, I decided to become a Kings Speakers member. Since then, I have done successful Table Topics, made speeches and embraced various roles within the club. This journey has been a remarkable one, filled with growth, self-discovery and countless moments of empowerment. Recently, I was incredibly honoured to fill the position of Vice President of Membership.
I don't concentrate on my speech anymore and seem to be stammering less as a result. I realise now that stammering was the fire alarm; when the alarm goes off, you don't go looking for the alarm. I look at what else is going on in my life: stressors, false self-beliefs and pressures, especially pressure that is self-induced.
I take time out to look after myself by journalling about my feelings, exercising, meditating, dancing, singing, doing pottery, being in nature and surrounding myself with people who make me feel good. I don't take myself too seriously.
Take that first step outside of your comfort zone and embrace opportunities that scare you. It is in these moments of vulnerability that we find our true strength.
Some days I'm stronger than others, but I don't put limitations on myself anymore. I feel the fear and do it. I used to have so much self-doubt but I realise that I'm just as capable as everyone else and I have a voice. I don't put pressure on myself to be perfect or to please people. When I don't want to do something, I say no!
I'd encourage everyone to embark on their own journey of self-discovery and growth. Find your truth, not what anyone else thinks you should be. Accept yourself. Take that first step outside of your comfort zone and embrace opportunities that scare you. It is in these moments of vulnerability that we find our true strength.
Challenging yourself can boost your confidence, enhance your well-being and help you conquer your deepest fears. By challenging ourselves, we unlock the doors to a world of limitless possibilities. We learn to trust in our own capabilities, empowering us to face life with renewed determination and self-assurance, and maybe increase your fluency as it did for me!
Go to our Stammering Communities & Groups page to see what you can get involved in.